Why is Viking building this large wind farm in a small island?Open or Close
There are many positive reasons for building the wind farm and one of them is, quite simply, the wind. Shetland has a mean wind speed of over 16mph (over 7 metres per second) . That makes it among the best places in the world to locate wind turbines. This natural advantage means each of the turbines situated in central Shetland will produce a lot more electricity than their equivalents elsewhere in the country, in some cases around double the productivity. Shetland has a competitive advantage when it comes to wind: if you are better at something than most others you will gain more from the activity.
The project will bring jobs and a substantial injection of income to the islands. The fact that the wind farm is 45% owned by the Shetland community will result in millions of pounds flowing into Shetland Charitable Trust every year. There will also be almost £2 million annually in community benefit payments.
The Viking Wind Farm will require an interconnector cable to the Scottish mainland so the electricity can be exported. Given that there will be spare capacity on the link, this opens up Shetland for the production of clean energy from more wind turbines and potentially from waves and the tide, bringing yet more jobs and income in the years to come.
Why should Shetland have these turbines to power homes in Glasgow?Open or Close
The power generated by Viking’s 103 turbines will be distributed throughout the electricity network, which will include Shetland for the first time as a result of the interconnector. Each unit sold will bring income to the community.
The islands have a long history of exporting products – fish, knitwear, oil – because it helps islanders make a living. That in turn sustains the population or helps the population to expand. The Viking Wind Farm and renewables in general will broaden the base of the Shetland economy at a time when the public sector, which is the biggest employer in the islands, is being squeezed by national and local government cuts.
But wind power just makes electricity bills higher, doesn’t it?Open or Close
Figures published by energy regulator Ofgem show that government support for wind power under the Renewable Obligation system added £6 to household bills in 2011. But the largest increases in energy bills have mainly been caused by the rising price of imported gas.
The development of onshore wind is a key way of improving the UK’s energy security, i.e. reducing dependence on imported gas which fluctuates in price and is likely to cost more in the years ahead as China and other developing countries substantially increase their energy use.
Government support for new technologies is a common feature of the world economy and with costs expected to come down it is likely that support for onshore wind power projects will reduce over time. In any case, the support for renewables is dwarfed by that given to coal, oil and gas – £4.2 billion in 2011 – and nuclear decommissioning – £2 billion in the same year.
- Onshore Wind - What You Need To Know (Scottish Renewables) p6
Why are wind farms being paid NOT to supply electricity to the grid?Open or Close
From time to time all electricity producers, and not just wind farms, are subjected to transmission constraints. These are imposed by National Grid to ensure the network does not become overloaded. Compensation payments to all operators associated with constraints in 2011 totalled £708 million. Of this, wind farms received £24.8 million.
- Onshore Wind - What You Need To Know (Scottish Renewables), p6
- Onshore Wind - What You Need To Know (Scottish Renewables), p6
Wind farms don’t save on CO2 emissions because other forms of dirty power are required for back-up, aren’t they?Open or Close
This is one of the great myths about wind power. The argument goes that because the wind does not blow all the time, investment will be required in gas-fired open cycle turbine plants which can be turned on when it is calm. Yet National Grid, which operates the electricity distribution network, has no plans to build extra plants even up to 2020 when 26GW of onshore and offshore wind is expected to be connected to the UK grid, almost four times the current level.
Obviously, in any given place it is not always windy, but it is usually blowing somewhere, and the larger the network the better (more interconnectors with the rest of Europe are likely to be built in the years ahead, meaning electricity can be drawn from the windiest places). Improved forecasting is also likely to help in managing electricity supply. And it is likely that storage technology, i.e. batteries, will be developed to retain electricity until it is required.
The reality is that as part of a mix of electricity sources, wind turbines do save on CO2 emissions. For Scotland that figure is currently more than eight million tonnes per year.
But the Scottish Government wants 100% of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2020 – surely that won’t work?Open or Close
Scotland is a net exporter of electricity and the target doesn’t mean that literally all of the country’s electricity will come from renewables, eliminating the need for oil and gas power stations (nuclear power stations are being phased out in Scotland). Rather, ministers envisage Scotland exporting half of its electricity, with renewables equivalent to 100 per cent of the nation’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020.
Wind farms don’t produce electricity very much of the time, do they?Open or Close
The capacity factor or load factor of a wind turbine is the amount of energy it actually produces relative to its theoretical potential. Between 2001 and 2011 in Scotland, the average load factor for wind turbines was 28.1 per cent.
No generating plant can produce electricity 100 per cent of the time. For coal in 2011 (in the UK) the load factor was 40.8 per cent, for gas 47.8 per cent and for nuclear 66.4 per cent.
The five turbines of the Burradale Wind Farm just outside Lerwick had a combined load factor of +50 per cent in their first decade, vividly illustrating the strength of Shetland’s wind resource. While the Viking turbines are unlikely to have a load factor as high as this, they are expected to be in the mid-to-high 40s, making them very effective electricity generators.
- Load Factors, Historic Regional Statistics, Energy Trends, DECC
- Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics, DECC (2012), Paragraph 5.44
- Figures supplied by Shetland Aerogenerators Ltd.
Climate change – one of the reasons for building wind farms – that’s just a myth isn’t it?Open or Close
No. A recent study looking at thousands of peer-reviewed articles in journals covering the different disciplines of climate science over the last two decades found that 97 per cent of scientists believed in anthropogenic or man-made climate change. The carbon dioxide level in the earth’s atmosphere has now reached 400 parts per million  and the effects of global warming are already starting to become evident, from the Arctic where the sea ice is shrinking alarmingly, glaciers are shortening and weather patterns are changing.
But a wind farm in Shetland isn’t going to make much difference to the climate when the US and China are doing nothing.Open or Close
Following this logic, no single wind farm would be built anywhere. It is the cumulative impact of wind farms around the world that will help mitigate climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from electricity production. It is true that the United States has been slow to commit itself to cutting back on CO2 emissions but attitudes in that country are changing rapidly following a series of heatwaves and storms, including Hurricane Sandy which killed almost 300 people and was the second-costliest storm in US history. China has the largest wind farm capacity in the world with 75,324 megawatts installed by 2012 .
The wind farm will kill lots of important birds, won’t it?Open or Close
Very few birds are actually killed by wind farms compared to other causes of bird mortality. And Viking Energy has taken special steps to ensure the threat to breeding birds, including red-throated diver, whimbrel and merlin, in the wind farm area is minimised.
Areas of blanket bog will be restored and protected to the benefit of bird species. Turbines will be sited to avoid flight corridors. And predator control will be introduced.
Species such as whimbrel are in decline in Shetland. The 3.7 whimbrel which Scottish Natural Heritage predicts will be killed each year by the wind farm must be set against the 72-108 deaths that presently occur every year due to other causes.
Will the promised interconnector cable ever be built?Open or Close
SHE Transmission Ltd has already begun work on the £1.1 billion high-voltage DC cable project to link Caithness and Moray by 2018. It was approved in 2014 by the UK electricity regulator Ofgem with extra capacity built in with a view to carrying renewable power generated in Shetland by Viking Energy and other wind, wave or tidal projects. The needs case for the interconnector cable between Weisdale and Caithness could be submitted to Ofgem this year.
A similar proposed cable from the Western Isles has proved to be much more expensive than originally projected. It is a very different design to the Shetland connection, involving significant sections over land to Beauly, near Inverness, which have to be doubled up.
Viking hasn’t listened to the people it consulted, has it?Open or Close
It certainly has. The plan in 2009 was for a wind farm of 150 turbines. In response to the voluminous feedback received by Viking that was revised down to 127 in 2010. Areas of pristine blanket bog were taken out of the scheme and the wind farm’s footprint reduced substantially. The government finally gave consent in April 2012 for 103 turbines.
Most people in Shetland oppose the wind farm, don’t they?Open or Close
Opponents often make this argument on the basis of the 2,722 objections to the planning application compared to the 1,109 notifications of support. People who are opposed to developments are much more likely to object to them. The planning responses do not serve as any kind of poll on the project.
An opinion poll of 1,050 people in Shetland (pop. 22,000) conducted by The Shetland Times newspaper in December 2010 found that more people (36%) were in favour of the wind farm than against it (33%), with the remainder (31%) undecided.